High-speed rail: Residents' "hybrid" plan gains with City Council, DOT | Citizen
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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

High-speed rail: Residents' "hybrid" plan gains with City Council, DOT

Posted by on Wed, Sep 1, 2010 at 9:18 AM

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The big news out of last night's City Council hearing on the Southeast High-Speed Rail Project: The hybrid plan put forward by a citizens group — variously called NC4 and the NC1/NC2 Avoidance Alternative — will be given serious consideration by the Department of Transportation's Rail Division. Pat Simmons, head of the rail division, told the Council that his staff will work with the city's transportation staff to see whether the hybrid idea can be made to work and if so, exactly where that cross-Capital Boulevard railroad viaduct could be located and what its impacts would be.

Before the hearing, DOT had said the first version of the hybrid idea presented by citizens wouldn't work because the elevations required to lift the tracks over Capital Boulevard in that specific location would be too steep. A different version presented last night by lawyer Ben Kuhn, though, would push the bridge a little to the north, thus allowing a more gradual rise over an area where Capital Boulevard dips down.

Simmons told the Indy that DOT doesn't have the data it would need to assess all of the various locations where a cross-Capital bridge might go, but will work with the city to gather it in the coming weeks.

The Council should tell DOT what it wants, Simmons said at the hearing, and DOT will "faithfully try" to make it happen.

For background on the hybrid plan, see our previous Citizen posts here and here.

Following the session, City Councilor John Odom said the hybrid option "looked pretty good to me." Regardless of whether it survives scrutiny, however, Odom said, the NC3 option that is so unpopular with his constituents in the Five Points neighborhoods should be eliminated from consideration by DOT. Odom said he hopes the Council will join him in calling for the NC3 idea to be dropped when it decides what position(s) to take — if any — at next Tuesday's Council meeting.

Councilor Russ Stephenson, who's taken the lead in getting the hybrid idea in front of DOT, said he was pleased by Simmons' pledge "to give it full consideration." Stephenson said he concluded from what Simmons said that taking the time to study the hybrid option won't jeopardize DOT's ability to compete for federal funding down the line. Simmons did say, though, that in the new "competitive and discretionary" federal funding processes, time is of the essence — being "shovel-ready" is what helped DOT get $500 million for rail improvements between Raleigh and Charlotte, he said.

Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin said she wanted time to digest what she heard. "We have a lot of neighborhoods with a lot of legitimate concerns," she said. And while the hybrid plan looks attractive now, she pointed out, no one has assessed what its negative impacts would be to the same degree that the negatives of NC3 and the NC1 and NC2 alternatives were revealed by DOT's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

Baldwin and Stephenson are the Council's two at-large members, elected citywide. Odom represents District B, where Five Points is located.

Also of note:

* The Council chamber was packed to overflowing by some 300 people. Most, but not all, were from Five Points and opposed NC3. But about 20 were residents of the West at North condominium, and they submitted petitions with 65 signatures opposing the NC1 and NC2 options as proposed, since either would force the closing of West and Harrington streets in Glenwood South.

* Speaking for the city administration, Raleigh transportation planner Eric Lamb said the staff supports NC3 because the positives outweigh the negatives, unlike with NC1 or NC2. Lamb asked the Council to endorse NC3 but with one change from what DOT proposed: Instead of bridging Hargett Street over the railroad tracks, Hargett could be closed if DOT would agree to extend West Street to connect with South Saunders Street.

* Extending West Street to the south, however, would destroy the developing and affordable Rosengarten Park community, said resident Dan Meyer. The conflicts between the HSR project and city streets in the area of West and Hargett streets have not been given much attention thus far, but they're just as real as the ones in the Glenwood South area.

* A continuing theme last night: "No rush to judgment." Stephenson used that term in an interview with us Monday. Last night, Tom Worth, an attorney working with the Five Points neighborhoods, picked up on it, saying decisions about the rail alignment are "a hundred-year play at least" for the city and "there should be no rush to judgment.

* Another theme: The city and DOT have done a poor job of bringing the public into the debate over where the HSR line should go if it should go through Raleigh at all. Carole Meyre, a leader of the Don't Railroad Historic Five Points group, accused Raleigh officialdom of "treating this as a neighborhood pothole issue" instead of a major land-use and transportation decision.

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